Public health careers

Dan Mason, Editorial manager
January, 2020

You can help to improve the health and wellbeing of people on a local, national or international scale by choosing one of the many public health jobs available to graduates

What is public health?

Public health is about taking a broad view of society to improve wellbeing and prevent illness - in contrast to hospital doctors, GPs and nurses who primarily look after individual patients on a case-by-case basis.

According to NHS Health Careers, there are three main areas of public health:

  • Health protection - protecting the population's health by ensuring that environmental risks are minimised. For example, you could work to prevent the outbreak of epidemics, plan responses to emergencies, or in food safety.
  • Health improvement - helping people to improve their own health, and therefore preventing illnesses from developing in the first place. You might be involved in campaigns to encourage heathier eating, physical exercise, or to persuade people to quit smoking and drugs.
  • Healthcare public health - making sure that everyone has access to the high quality health services and medicines that they need, when they need them. This could be a government or local authority policy role, or humanitarian work in developing countries.

The most recognisable public health advancements of the last century include the development of vaccination programmes, better workplace safety, family planning, and improvements to food and water safety.

The Royal College of Nursing says it is now the rise of diseases such as diabetes - and underlying causes of ill health such as smoking, obesity and alcohol consumption - that are the most prevalent public health concerns.

Among the main priorities for the NHS in public health are improving mental health and tackling dementia, minimising the health effects of climate change in the UK, and improving diets. You can learn more about current issues at Public Health England.

How do I get a job in public health?

Public health jobs give you the opportunity to improve the lives of a whole community - whether that's on a small scale in your local area, or on a regional, national or international level.

Jobs are available in local authorities and government, the NHS, private healthcare companies, charities, and in higher education/research. Roles are varied - encompassing everything from school nurses and substance misuse workers to public health consultants and epidemiologists - meaning there is no standard route into this field.

Find out more about relevant job roles to see what qualifications are required:

You can also view a list of all healthcare job profiles. Many roles, such as dentist, pharmacist and midwife, contribute to public health even though they aren't necessarily considered to be 'public health jobs'. Less obvious career paths with a public health element include those in sport and fitness, teaching and even town planning.

For more information about what is considered a public health job, see Health Careers - The public health workforce explained.

Gaining work experience by volunteering for public health related charities is one way of impressing potential employers. When it comes to looking for jobs, NHS Jobs and local authority websites are a good place to start, as well as general jobs websites for opportunities in the private sector.

To work in a higher level role, for example in public health consultancy, studying for a Masters degree in public health will give you a significant advantage.

What does an MSc Public Health involve?

Entry requirements for Masters programmes in public health usually include a good undergraduate degree in a health-related subject. Relevant subjects such as geography, politics and psychology are often accepted too. Having some paid or voluntary work experience that demonstrates your interests will significantly improve your chances of getting a place.

Tuition fees for full-time, one-year courses tend to be between £6,000 and £10,000, although you may be eligible for a Masters loan. Most Masters degrees in public health are also available to study over two years on a part-time basis.

You'll typically study a set of core modules and write a dissertation. For instance, the modules you'll take on the University of Salford's MSc Public Health include:

  • 21st century global public health challenges
  • Epidemiology and statistics for public health
  • Research methods applied to public health.

Meanwhile, London Metropolitan University's course covers modules such as:

  • Health in the city
  • Wellbeing in later life
  • Managing health and wellbeing in the workplace.

Research the many different public health Masters degrees available to see which one best meets your own interests. To find the right programme for you, search for postgraduate courses in public health.

An MSc Public Health will set you up for a successful career in the field. For example, graduates from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine's course have gone on to work for organisations such as:

  • Cancer Research UK
  • Health Protection Agency
  • International HIV/AIDS Alliance
  • Médecins Sans Frontières
  • Public Health England
  • World Health Organisation
  • United Nations.

Their job titles include academic researcher, data analyst, epidemiologist, health policy officer, project manager and health economist.

Find out more

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